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Back Pain

It is estimated that 80 million Americans suffer from back pain. Leg pain is often related to the back, even though the back might not hurt. The JAMA reports that Americans spend about $86 billion dollars on spine related issues. Simple X-rays, CT scans or MRI’s are often helpful in diagnosing back and leg pain. Common diagnosis’ may include disc degeneration/bulging or herniation, arthritis, muscle spasm or facet syndrome.

While most sufferers are either prescribed by their medical doctor or self-medicate with anti-inflammatories-they are not without risk. A recent meta-analysis published online in The Lancet spells out the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and upper gastro-intestinal (GI) complications from oral nonsteroidal and anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Though Naproxen ( Aleve,Naprosyn) were not found to significantly increase the risk of either heart attack or stroke, even they doubled the risk of heart failure and increased the risk of GI problems.

Alternatively, many people with back issues seek relief from chiropractors; licensed health professionals whose therapies include spinal manipulation. In fact, a 2010 Health services Research report shows a 68 % rise in the number of Americans who visited chiropractors from 1997 to 2006. A RAND corporation study says about 2/3 s of visits are for low-back pain. Along with spinal manipulations chiropractors often use gentle physiotherapy techniques such as cold-laser, ultrasound, electric muscle stimulation ,cold or hot compresses, acupressure (trigger point therapy), and stretching/strengthening exercises. Several studies from around the world have shown chiropractic treatment to be very efficacious in relieving both acute and chronic back pain, and it is still a drugless approach. Studies have shown that chiropractic is the best choice for relief of low-back pain.

Stress and strain, sedentary lifestyle, too much sitting, are common causes of back pain. While back pain may get better on its own, a more pro-active plan is recommended. These five unhealthy behaviors should be corrected.

1. Not exercising: The spine and supporting structures do much better if they are strong and flexible. Low-impact activity such as walking, swimming and Pilates are excellent choices. Stretching and yoga are great, and consistency is essential.

2. Too much sitting: Sitting puts a lot more stress on the spine than standing and prevents nutrients from reaching the rubbery discs that cushion the vertebrae. If you must sit for prolonged periods just get up periodically, say every half hour, and stretch or just walk around a bit.

3. Smoking: A recent University of Kentucky study found that current smokers were more than twice as likely to have chronic pain, than those who had never smoked. Even former smokers had an increased risk. That may be because nicotine can speed deterioration of the discs and weaken the ligaments that stabilize the spine. Smoking may also intensify pain sensitivity, possibly because of changes in the nervous system. Quitting smoking may partially reverse some of these effects.

4. Putting off weight loss: Losing weight can help protect your back if you are overweight. A meta-analysis of nearly 100 studies found that overweight and obese people are more likely than those who are normal weight to suffer back problems. Simply put, the extra weight compresses the discs, which are like spongy shock absorbers. Carrying extra weight also tends to make the back ache last longer.

5. Stressing out: numerous studies have found a correlation between psychological stress and physical pain. Stress increases pain sensitivity. It can also promote inflammation, which is of particular concern if your back pain is caused by an inflammatory condition such as psoriatic arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis. Emotional therapies, self-hypnosis, yoga and meditation, exercise like taking walks, deep breathing, are all proven methods to relieve stress, and may ease your aching back.

There are many powerful natural agents that help back pain. Glucosamine/chondroitin sulphate can rebuild new cartilage and after several weeks has a pain relieving affect. Pycnogenol (pine tree extract) is a great anti-inflammatory. Cat’s Claw is an ant-inflammatory that inhibits tumor necrosis factor, a target of powerful RA (rheumatoid arthritis) drugs. Fish oil (omega 3 fatty acids) have been extensively studied and in a 2010 meta-analysis omega 3 was fund to significantly decrease joint tenderness and stiffness, and reduce or eliminate NSAID use. Ginger is an Asian spice used for centuries as an anti-inflammatory and pain killer. It has properties similar to ibuprofen and COX-2 inhibitors. SAM-e is a synthetic form of a chemical found in all cells. It is a natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory. Curcumim which is the key component in turmeric is a powerful pain reliever (and prevents some cancers). Curcumin has been shown to reduce joint pain and swelling. Boswelia is also an ancient herb called Indian frankincense. It has been shown to improve arthritis pain and function and slowed cartilage damage. Topically capsaicin which is the heat producing component in chili peppers, can temporarily reduce substance p, a pain transmitter.